By Saleem A Sethi, Weekly Pulse Magazine, September 23, 2013
Can there be any greater anomaly than the one when a killer accepts his crime but the victim starts giving justifications on his behalf considering that the ‘murderer’ is being implicated through some conspiracy? Can there be any bigger confusion? And has it anything to do with the Stockholm syndrome? And if there is any resemblance with that syndrome who and what helped and fed this into our minds?
A serving general of a country is murdered on the front after about 50,000 more such civilian and khaki deaths but his nation, instead of going after the perpetrator, once again starts a debate about the ‘actual killer’, how to deal with him and whether if it is our war at all? And mind you, this debate is taking place in the 13th year since this black comedy got started. The debate seemingly resulted in a ‘meeting’ of the persons, who could not make up their minds about the threat and could not face it individually, and reached the conclusion that they cannot understand and face it collectively, too. So, let’s surrender in the name of ‘giving peace a chance’.
The ones who were apprehensive about negotiations with terrorists kept quiet for three reasons; 1) not to go against the wisdom of the democratically elected government and political leaders, 2) not to advocate war without letting the civilian leadership make a last ditch effort to establish peace through negotiations if they could, and 3) to let the real faces of the people, who many on the other side of the river consider as Islamic warriors, exposed before the nation before it declares a full-fledged war against them. The irony was faced equally by the academia which could peep into the future and, surprisingly, by the leadership of armed forces. This probably was/is the first time that the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ found themselves on the same page since 1979.
The negotiations saga, however, unraveled sooner than expected with the killing of Maj Gen Sana Ullah Khan, General Officer Commanding 17 Division in Upper Dir and the taking of responsibility of the criminal act by Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan through its spokesman, ShahidullahShahid. For any other people, it would have become a moment of truth. But for us, it is becoming another twist in tale (or may be in the tail). A new debate is likely to start (or has it already started?) in which old trivial matters will get precedence and real issues (like threat to the state, killing of one of its Generals and how to respond to it) will be placed on the backburner.
No matter how hilarious and tragic it may appear indulging in irrelevant matters and splitting them apart is the course of reasoning and discussion we have been observing repeatedly during these past years in this war against terror. But why? Why this absurdity? Why this confusion about the identity and objectives of the enemy? Why this conspiracy theory behind everything? Why these deep suspicions about every politician and state institution?
The first reason, of course, is Zia’s efforts to make religion a rival institution to the state as far as the question of identity is concerned. The second is the purposeful and uninterrupted continuation of the indoctrination in the education system after his death. The third is the role of the media played at the behest of powers that be that wanted and needed support for the continuation of Zia’s policies vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan. These are not only the civilian governments that can be blamed for not changing the bad things but also the military establishment which continued chasing the elusive dream of acquiring ‘strategic depth’ inside the ‘small and weak’ neighboring Afghanistan; and then differentiating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists.
Beside all the other factors combined, if we find ourselves failing in mustering support for war against a savage enemy, it is mainly because people were made to believe that our army was at war with it for the past twelve years. But what did they saw at the end was about 50,000 deaths, spreading of the terrorists’ threat beyond the limits of tribal areas, continuous fear and a breakdown of the state’s administrative, military and economic structures and capabilities. So, they now prefer listening to Taliban apologists telling them that ‘we want peace at any cost’ rather than the Chief of Army Staff reassuring them that the ‘Army has the will and capability to take the fight to the terrorists’.
This is indeed a very bad and unfortunate situation a country can find itself in. The government and other politicians and political parties are now faced with the dilemma as what to do. There are right wing political parties which consider those challenging the state as ‘their own people’ because of ideological reasons. There are those (new) parties which were swept away by the time-long propaganda of ‘not our war’ and campaign against drone attacks. Then there are those parties which stood for military action against militants and took a firm stand against their ideology and atrocities but which only brought home coffins of their leaders and a label of ‘anti-Pakistan’ and sometimes being infidels in return.
But let bygones be bygones. What now? It’s true that we, as a nation, made collective mistakes in the past. But does that mean, we allow ourselves being stuck in it forever? No. That is not an option. The country and its people have already suffered losses which are unparalleled in contemporary history and due to which it has lost its place among the comity of nations and which has hindered its progress to unimaginable extent. Truth is that its citizens have been considered some kind of pariahs outside the confines of their own country.
On the internal front, the state has lost its monopoly on violence. Private militias are openly operating and challenging its writ in the grab of religion. They are expanding their territorial gains and want the state to keep off its hands of the areas under their influence at present. And they want to extend their control to the whole of the country and then implement some medieval way of life and governance on its citizens. This situation can’t be allowed to drag on any further.
The army chief is shouting at the top his lungs for the past more than one year now to bring the point home that there is elephant in the room but no one seems to be listening. He started August 13 last year telling his countrymen that the internal threat had become existential in nature and that it won’t go away with our wish for peace. He has been very candid at times by telling the people that the enemy was out to destroy the country’s ‘values system’ and implement its ‘twisted ideology’ on its people. After the killing of Maj Gen Sana Ullah Khan, the army chief ‘emphasized again that while it is understandable to give peace a chance through a political process but no one should have any misgivings that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms. Army has the ability and the will to take the fight to the terrorists’. He also said that ‘terrorists will not be allowed to take advantage of [the peace process]’.
No army chief can go further than that. Now it is for the civilian government and political leadership of the country as a whole to come forward and take ownership of a war that can’t be won through appeasement or surrender. And it will have to move swiftly because time is running out fast. If the political leadership still insists that negotiations and talks are the only way out, then it should first draw the red line. No state can enter into dialogue with the people whose ultimate demand is dislodging of the state itself. Using the name of ‘peace’ for things so absurd is ridiculous. There will be peace with India the next moment if the government, politicians and people accepted the liquidation of Pakistan. Will we do that for the cause of peace? Peace is also there in all the graveyards. Do we want that? If not, then it is obvious we will have to prepare ourselves for a bitter war.
To prepare the nation for it and to end the prevailing confusion, today’s patriotic politicians, politico-religious Ulema, scholars and governments (federal and provincial) should do away with their gallows humor forthwith; they must name and condemn the perpetrator and not just sympathize with the victim. If they cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with their army for the cause of the state, people will be justified to call them cowards and traitors; if not today then tomorrow but the dustbin of history is going to be their ultimate destination. As for the army, it should come out with a clear strategy. If not directly then, may be indirectly, but it should spell out clearly how does it want to move about in future. Does it really mean business? Does it want to flush out every culprit and cleanse all the territories including North Waziristan and Muridke? And is it inclined to not to discriminate among terror groups and individuals like Tehreek-e-Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Nek Mohammad, HakimullahMehsood and Haqqani?
We cannot afford to lose any more time. Because if sons of Corp Commanders kept on dying in mosques in Rawalpindi garrison, police officers slain in Police Lines in Quetta, Generals killed in the battlefield in Dir and members of Aman (Peace) Committees ambushed and murdered in Swat, then this state, its government, its political leadership and its military and its politician mullah will not be able to find a voice in its favor tomorrow; even as muffled as being raised today. There may be peace then. There may be silence, but not we; not this state. Not anything, the leftover mass of people can be proud of. They will be sheep herded to the history’s slaughterhouse without any sound of resistance. Because any protest, any sound, any opposing view will become synonymous with heretical, punishable with death. In fact, we have already reached that stage. People who stand with their state and their military today are doing it at the cost of great risk to their life and of being declared foreign agents. Don’t let them perish. Or everyone left will be standing alone.